Lake Orion — There are two Clarkston boys varsity basketball teams floating around northern Oakland County.
There is confusing Clarkston that makes head coach Dan Fife want to shake an angry fist into the air. And there is good Clarkston, a team that believes it can win a Class A state title when all cylinders are clicking.
Good Clarkston showed up for the first round of the Class A state tournament and it was a thing of beauty to watch, especially in the second quarter when its defense turned nasty and it outscored Rochester Adams, 22-7, during an easier than expected 72-59 victory in a highly anticipated district game at Lake Orion High School. When Clarkston is right and focused on playing basketball, it is difficult for most teams to stay close.
“Sometimes we look really good and sometimes we lay eggs,” Fife said. “And it seems so strange we can play that poorly. It is like we cannot do anything. Even though we only have four losses it is concerning. I don’t know who might show up.”
Here are four ways the good Clarkston showed up for much of the game: The Flipper, the man in the middle, a suffocating defense and a deep bench rendered Adams and its fine point guard Akhemji Williams helpless.
The Flipper is guard Nick Owens, who scored 23 points and flips awkward quick release shots toward the basket from 3-point land. Certainly this kid was laughed at by the other kids when they first saw his shot. Of course Owens got the last laugh because he kept hitting shots, just as he did against Adams.
The man in the middle is 6-foot-8 center Michael Nicholson, who swatted shots, altered shots and was a regular Ben Wallace inside. Whenever an Adams player broke loose, Nicholson was there to greet him. But he got in foul trouble, which is a problem for most high school teams.
They cannot function when their big man is out.
Clarkston simply rolled out Press Kampe, Jonah Newblatt and Andrew Swanson and kept on rolling. They also have this high-energy guy named Merrick Canada who plays as if his pants are on fire.
It was a near-perfect evening for Clarkston, but there is one thing that is a sore point. Players hear the talk about this team being Jekyll and Hyde. It comes from the coach, it comes from the community and it sometimes comes from inside the privacy of the team.
Williams not enough
We all love to shake negative labels and the men here plan on doing that.
“I definitely grow tired of it,” said Owens. “We work pretty hard and I don’t think we deserve that type of reputation. We lose some games, but we come out and play hard most of the time.”
Fife was not complaining about his team on this night. Yes, there were some shaky moments in the second half when Adams sliced an 18-point halftime lead (38-20) to nine. That airtight defense turned sporadic and the fellas made too many mistakes as Adams did everything it could to turn the game into a frantic pace.
Clarkston needed to stop Williams, who scored 31 and not only ran the show but was the producer, director and star of the show for Adams. He is a good point guard that a smaller college could use. He is not quick enough for his size for big schools to come calling and must work on his shot, but Williams has the basketball savvy and skills to make it uneasy for any team.
“We knew their point guard was going to make all the plays,” Nicholson said. “If we could shut him down, all the other guys were going to have to make their shots.”
Due for a title
That didn’t happen. Williams was the only Adams player to hit double figures.
So now Clarkston must use this new energy and focus to keep moving. Its next game against Lake Orion won’t be easy. They are rivals and the 7 p.m. game Wednesday will be played on Lake Orion’s home floor.
But Clarkston hasn’t won a district title in three seasons, which is almost unheard of. If good Clarkston shows up Wednesday, that streak will be close to ending. If bad Clarkston shows up, who knows what might happen.
“Tonight it seems like we were all mentally into it and we were ready to play,” Owens said. “We will see a lot more of that throughout the playoffs.”